Bribing foreign officials

JPMorgan Chase hired hundreds of friends and relatives of potential clients in order to win business in China, an international bribery scheme, federal officials said Thursday, that netted the Wall Street bank more than $100 million.

JPMorgan agreed to $264 million in fines to settle civil and criminal charges, an amount discounted in return for the bank’s cooperation with the investigations. The bank, which was accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, acknowledged wrongdoing as part of the settlement, an usual admission in such cases.

Facing a competitive business environment, JPMorgan hired candidates — who were often unqualified — for internships and full-time jobs at the prestigious bank, the largest in the U.S. by assets. In some cases, the applicants were referred by Chinese government officials and the employment would be extended if the relationship generated enough revenue, according to court documents.

The settlement follows a multi-year, high-profile investigation into what law enforcement officials expect to be several cases examining the conduct of U.S. banks operating in China and other parts of Asia. The JPMorgan case shows that this may “be an industry wide problem,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission. “We do not expect this to be the last action related to this sweep.”

JPMorgan said it has made improvements to its hiring practices and was pleased that its cooperation was recognized by law enforcement officials. “The conduct was unacceptable. We stopped the hiring program in 2013 and took action against the individuals involved,” JPMorgan said in a statement.